Conor McGregor became UFC interim featherweight champion on Saturday. | Photo: Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com
While skeptics had plenty of questions about Conor McGregor’s ability to deal with a high-level wrestler, the man himself never had a doubt.
The 26-year-old Irishman proved himself in the UFC 189 headliner, as he finished Chad Mendes – a former NCAA All-American wrestler -- 4:57 into the second round of their interim featherweight title bout at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. After spending much of the frame on his back, McGregor eventually escaped to his feet and had Mendes reeling with a barrage of accurate punches. A straight left sent the fading Team Alpha Male product to the canvas, and a series of unanswered rights brought an end to the contest.
While Mendes attacked with malicious intent on the feet and landed four takedowns, McGregor’s confidence never waned.
“I didn’t feel threatened,” McGregor said at Saturday’s post-fight press conference. “Besides me, he’s probably the No. 2 heaviest hitter in the division. He’s certainly the best wrestler in the division. They try and find holes. They try and find questions that I’ve yet to answer. They try and find something that’s gonna break me: the weight cut, the wrestler. There’s always something but I always prevail, and I am always confident that I can take whatever these people give. I can walk through everything.”
Throughout his rise to superstardom, McGregor managed to avoid the featherweight division’s most accomplished grapplers. That all changed when Jose Aldo was forced to withdraw from the UFC 189 main event due to a broken rib, however. There were many that thought Mendes was a more difficult matchup for the SBG Ireland representative than Aldo would have been. For his part, McGregor says he never took the criticism personally.
“It’s been a long road here. The question never really bothered me. I knew what I could do. You cannot have a singular approach in this game,” he said. “You must be free to fight in all forms. If it’s a fight to the death between two men and there is no clock, a takedown doesn’t matter. It’s the efficient fighter who will prevail. I never really bothered about the question; my team knew what I was capable of. I knew when I hit him I would hurt him and that was it.”
McGregor has now won 14 straight fights dating back to 2011. This one, of course, was a little different than the rest because of everything that came along with it. The victory over Mendes has made a whirlwind 2015, a year in which McGregor says he has been home just 19 days total, seem worthwhile.
“I didn’t really think what way I was gonna react, but when I put him away and I jumped on the cage and my coach was right there on the cage with me and I was just looking around at everything, it overwhelmed me and I came to tears,” McGregor said. “It has been a hell of a ride. Just over two years I’m here, and I’ve already broke every single record in the game. It does not come easy. Trust me when I tell you there’s a lot of work involved.”
In the end, McGregor said it didn’t really matter who was in front of him on Saturday night.
“I am happy to have taken the gold. It would not have mattered if it was Jose or Chad. This was my belt,” he said. “This was my night. Chad mauled Jose in their fight [at UFC 179]. I feel it was a back and forth, evenly fought fight. I was never in any danger in [this] contest, and I felt extremely confident. I spoke to him throughout every single exchange that it was nothing.”